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Distance Delivery Mentor Profile: Billy Wilson

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No matter where you live in the world, you can study TLC’s New Zealand Creativity programmes through distance delivery. Distance delivery means you will learn to draw, paint, design and create from the comfort of your own home and receive one-on-one tutoring from one of our mentors, all of whom are practicing artists.

We spoke to Billy Wilson, three-time Parkin Drawing Prize finalist, and one of our distance delivery mentors.


Hi Billy. You’ve been both an on-site tutor and a distance delivery mentor at TLC. What’s the difference between on-site and distance delivery learning?

Distance delivery students get really good one-on-one time. I really like delivering it because I get to spend time with students in a way that is difficult in the classroom. In terms of the focus that a mentor can give to students to help unpack their creative process and what they are doing, distance delivery can be a great way to learn.

What’s the most important advice you give students?

The best advice I can give is to really engage in the creative process. That is something TLC really emphasises – from the beginning experimental stages, right through to connecting with the wider community. So, you really get to understand the creative process because you are going to carry that skill set for the rest of your life.

How do you provide feedback to students?

Mostly by phone calls. Some students prefer written or video feedback and then email, but most students prefer the immediacy of a phone call. The phone conversation is real, immediate and organic. It’s as close to the classroom as you can get.

Why are you an artist?

It’s something I’ve always done. I was the kid who got asked to draw stuff at school. I guess I’m a very visual person. I look at history and what artists I admire have done, and I think “holy cow”, and I can’t get it out of my head. I’m also very unhappy when I’m not doing it – if I don’t do it, Billy go gaga.

My parents were both creative – mum was into interior decoration. I grew up around garden, colour, texture and the ways to deal with a space. These have direct crossover with painting. Dad spent his time in the garage doing lots of nautical stuff, paint stuff. It just came naturally for me to take all those influences and channel them through. After school I found TLC and did that programme. Then I tried to do Fine Arts at university, didn’t like it, left, came back to TLC and did Level 7. The rest is history.

What artists inspire you?

When I was a kid it was comic books. When I was a young adult it was the Impressionists, and it still is. I could cite any of the classics – Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet. I never liked abstract art but developed a new respect for it after studying at TLC, and I’ve been introduced to a lot of new artists. Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Gerhard Richter have all worked in an area that I’m really interested in – where image came back into abstract art. In the 1960s they brought back image which was really out at the time.


How has your own art evolved since studying at TLC?

TLC changed everything (in my art) and everything has changed since TLC. I remember after being at university, I felt lost and disenchanted. I felt like I’d gained a lot of technical skills at TLC – like I’d really evolved a kind of language in terms of engagement with material and observational skills and I think I went to uni looking for something more conceptual, like food for thought. But I didn’t really like the approach. So I was feeling a bit lost. At that time, I was mainly doing quite traditional art, lots of still lifes, landscapes and portraits. Then I went through Level 7 at TLC and everything kind of got turned upside down. I came out not doing much figurative stuff at all – working very much with materials and processes and that sort of thing – and that still constitutes a massive part of my practice. Over the past 10 years I’ve been trying to grab the essence of what I was doing beforehand, combined with what I learned through Level 7 and finding a way that I really connected with it all; that really felt like it was me.

What’s your preferred medium?

I’ve mainly done painting for the past many years. I’ve been using a bit of charcoal recently. I’ve done a lot of drawing in the past, just not in the last 10, 15 years. The recent charcoal drawings that I’ve done are like my return to drawing. And the area that I’m most interested in getting into.

Are there any recurring themes in your work?

I think architecture is a big one. So that might be anything from an image to the way that work relates to architecture, for example how it is hung. So in a literal sense, but also in a very metaphorical sense.

On another level, there is this whole thing in postmodernism, that is to do with critique and deconstruction. Everything gets pulled apart, everything gets critiqued. It’s quite a cynical, cool, detached kind of approach that doesn’t gel with me. I want to take the garden, and I want to take the paint shed and I want to take Impressionism – I want to take all of these, things that for me are really affirmative and put them together.

What do you see as the role of the artist in society?

I get the feeling that the great art that we look back on, premodernism, was something that inspired people. They could stand in front of it, and there was some kind of glory in it. Whether that was God reflected back in religious themes, or whether that was the greatness of the civilisation, there was something that had an uplifting quality to it. Now art can be overly cynical. I don’t want my work to move on that sort of downward trajectory, but at the same time I don’t want it to be fluffy.

As a three-time Parkin Drawing Prize finalist (2017, 2018 and 2019) your work is getting more and more attention. What’s your current focus as an artist?

I’m going to be making as much work as possible and showing it. My focus now is evolving my work through image-making and pushing it as far as it can go. Large scale is a big focus at the moment. And showing it. That is the most important thing – if the art is not shown, then it is not finished.

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  • Alice Wilson Milne
    01/05/2019 5:32am (4 years ago)

    Billy's words really capture TLC, its essence, challenges and why we keep creativity alive...it never stops. Thoroughly enjoyed this...many thanks

  • Isaac Bishara
    11/04/2019 9:45am (4 years ago)

    Kia Ora Billy. I thoroughly enjoyed this article. Inspiring.

    TLC - it strikes me that every staff tutor should be interviewed so we can get to know and appreciate who they are, what and who inspires them and why they create the art they create.

    More like this please.

    What a fantastic read.